Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: June 2012

A Really Cool Art Book

Normally I have harsh words for so-called educational workbooks you find at Costco. (The phrase “soul-crushing” comes to mind.) I’m not a big fan of workbooks in general, unless you are going to be trapped with your kids on an airplane, and in that case –load up! But Let’s Make Some Great Art, by Marion Deuchars is different.

Repetitive sentence-phrasing alert! Normally, I don’t include pictures of the insides of books because I try to stay vigilant about not infringing on copyrights, but you really have to see inside Let’s Make Some Great Art to see why I like it so much.

There are lots of “how-to” drawing tutorials…

…as well as several art history lessons and introductions to famous artists.

I was actually quite tempted to buy two of these books; one for Bruce(7) and one for myself. But since I’m not exactly sure when I would find time for myself to draw, I just bought one book and put it in Bruce’s summer basket.

As it turns out, my mom had purchased Marion Deuchar’s Let’s Make Some Great Placemat Art to keep at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. It’s a lot less educational, but still fun. Let’s Make some great Placemat Art would be a good choice for an emergent reader…or anyone facing a long car-trip this summer with kids in the backseat.

Petunia Fitzgerald Creations

A few weeks ago I shared with you my plans to purchase a custom “Family Rules” sign from Petunia Fitzgerald Creations. The shop owner, Janet, saw my post and offered my readers a 10% coupon code good through the end of June. What you see above is the final product! I have this sign hanging right over our piano and it looks beautiful.

Janet custom matched the sign to a sample of my dining room wallpaper that I sent her. She also worked with me to get all of my rules organized in just the right way. It was really meaningful to me when she sent back the first proof and had put the rules “Be Kind to Yourself” and “Plan for Success” right next to each other on the sign. In my original draft, those rules were very far apart. But together as a pair, they speak in a whole new way.

Can you tell that I have recently become an Etsy junkie? If any of my readers have their own Etsy store, please share your link below in the comment section. I just might become your next customer. 🙂

Star Wars Moms Unite!

My I Brake for Moms column in The Weekly Herald this week.

Angela Kay Designs

My daughter Jenna’s birthday is coming up so I purchased this super cute apron and headband from my friend Angela’s Etsy Shop, Angela Kay Designs. The only problem was, it’s so cute I couldn’t wait for Jenna’s birthday!

Jenna had previously been cooking in her brother Bruce’s apron, also made by Angela. I’m not sure if Angela  still sells this design, but she made it in Bruce’s favorite colors: brown and orange.

Now Jenna has lots of options when it is time to help Mommy cook!

Animal Farm For Kids

(An 11 year old me, 6 months before the Berlin Wall fell.)

Recently, Bruce(7), Jenna(2.5) and I spent a wonderful afternoon watching the cartoon version of George Orwell’s classic book Animal Farm on Hulu.plus.  This was the perfect compliment to my Inspired By SLE Reading List #3. Bruce and I had just read all about the Bolshevik Revolution, Communism, and the Cold War in The Last 500 Years by Jane Bingham. Now all I had to do was pop some popcorn and bring these big ideas to the small screen.

The first time I read Animal Farm was in sixth grade when my family took a trip to Europe, six months before the Berlin Wall fell. We flew into West Germany, and then drove through East Germany to get to our friends, Walter and Hanelora’s house in West Berlin. Driving through East Germany my dad was pulled over for a speeding ticket, even though he wasn’t speeding! We were all quite terrified, but a little bit of cash saved the day.

This is what I wrote in my diary about what it was like to visit the Berlin Wall from the West side. The next day, we went through Checkpoint Charlie and saw East Berlin too.

Watching Animal Farm with my kids was a full circle moment for me. It was surprising how old lines came back to me; “Four legs good! Two legs b-a-a-a-a-d!”, and still freaked me out after all of these years! Jenna(2.5) just thought we were watching a cartoon about farm animals, and lost interest after about fifteen minutes.  🙂  Luckily, her older brother stuck with me.

The best part of this experience was the conversation the cartoon prompted me to have with my son Bruce. Together, Bruce and I questioned which was worse for the animals: being ruled by Farmer Brown or being ruled by the pigs? What were the differences between Snowball and Napoleon? We discussed the words “propaganda”, “proletariat”, “Capitalism”, and “Communism”.  I told Bruce what it was like to go through Checkpoint Charlie and have every inch of our bus searched for 45 minutes. I explained to him that when George Orwell first wrote this story, people in America were honestly afraid of Communism, but that now that moment of fear had passed.  Wow.

Staying Sane Over Summer Break

Summer vacation is finally upon us and I’m ready with a plan. First off, our priorities:

  1. Play outside
  2. Play inside
  3. Go places
  4. Read
  5. Rest
  6. Afterschooling
  7. Screen Time

There are 24 hours in the day, so having my 7 year old do about an hour of school work a day is not a big deal to me. Formally, we are going to do my A STEM Summer plans. Informally, I have this nifty system worked out where my son has to jump through hoops and cluck like a chicken if he wants to play Lego Nijago on the computer. Okay, so I’m joking about the chicken part!  But I’m not kidding about jumping through hoops:

All of the supplies are in Bruce’s blue basket, lined with clothespins for each activity. This is a modified version of a really cool idea I gleaned from Morning Hugs and Goodnight Kisses.

After Bruce completes each activity, he can drop the corresponding clothespin in the Fourth of July Jar.

Then, when computer times starts at 7 pm in our house, he has time “in the bank” to play.

No arguments over the computer + extra learning = Afteschooling actually making my life easier!

A STEM Summer Week #1

Some of my regular readers might be wondering  “Whatever happened with Jenny’s A STEM Summer plans?” Well the thing is, Bruce doesn’t get out of school until tomorrow, June 25th, because we had so many make-up snow days. Don’t feel too badly for his class though, because this past week they have gone swimming, to the Woodland Park Zoo, cleaned out their desks, and had an all-school movie day.

I’m going to roll-out our own fun starting the first week of July. Here are my plans for Week 1 of A STEM Summer:

Weekly Theme: Oceans

Monday/ART: Mix it Up, pp. 6-7 in I Can Paint! by Irene Luxbacher

Tuesday/SCIENCE: Desalination Experiment

Wednesday/TECHNOLOGY: Visit the Ballard Locks and learn how to use the GPS to get there.

Thursday/ENGINEERING: Build a toy sailboat

Friday/MATH: Fun with the Math Balance (Jenna), Hands on Equations(Bruce)

Materials Needed:

Art: blue, red and yellow paint, art paper

Science: iodized salt, bottled water, Saran wrap

Engineering: nails, wooden dowel, tools, a bit of cloth and string, glue, and a wooden boat hull that looks like this:

Special Notes:

Okay, I’m really lame because I have no idea how you are supposed to acquire a wooden boat hull like that if you don’t happen to be married to a wood carver (I’m not).

Bruce(7) did this activity last week at Cama Beach State Park on Camano Island, and it was really fun. I took pictures and can describe how to do the whole project except for finding the boat hull itself. I bet some of my readers have some fabulous ideas on how to solve that problem, but of course, the comments aren’t working on my blog at the moment. Argh!

* Update: I just heard from Blog.com and found out how to (hopefully) fix the comments problem.  So fingers crossed, things are working again!

Virginia Woolf for Kids

Part of my reading list for children inspired by spring quarter of Stanford’s SLE program includes finding a book for kids that introduced them to Virginia Woolf.  I could only find one book out there that met this task, but luckily it was a good one.

Virginia Wolf by Kyo Maclear is something that both my 2 year old and my 7 year old have enjoyed.  The illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault are absolutely charming, and the hand lettering is done in D’nealian, which is the handwriting program my son Bruce uses at school.

Virginia Wolf tells the story of two sisters named Virginia and Vanessa.  One day, Virginia wakes up in a really sour mood and turns into a wolf.  Vanessa spends the rest of the book trying to help her sister choose to feel better.  At one point, Bloomsberry is mentioned.  When we finally see Virginia’s face without the wolf head, she does indeed have a very distinctive looking nose.

This book is similar in merit to When Sophie Gets Angry because it helps children understand “big emotions” and think about socially appropriate ways to handle them.  I’m not sure how much either of my kids learned about the real Virginia Woolf, but they are at least going to be familiar with her name and know that sometimes she suffered from really dark moods.

A Dream Library for Your Children

Excuse me while I drool. For part of my Inspired by SLE a Reading List for Children Part #3 I purchased Who Was Anne Frank, Who Was Charles Darwin and Classic Starts: Frankenstein. Now it’s only a matter of time before my wallet starts burning  and I order a whole bunch more from both the “Who Was” and “Classic Starts” series.

Bruce(7) was already familiar with the “Who Was” series, because it is responsible for his highly detailed knowledge of the Beatles and Harry Houdini. When I sat down to read the Anne Frank and Charles Darwin books, I was really impressed by how the publishers covered serious material in a safe way for children. That they could make history seem so entertaining for young readers, was an added bonus. Unfortunately, our public library system only has a handful of the “Who Was” series, which is really disappointing.

As for the “Classic Starts” series, I was totally unfamiliar with it until I read their version of Frankenstein. I was really impressed how the publishers were able to translate the story into something that was easy and fun for kids to read, without losing the big-picture themes of the story. There are discussion questions at the end of the book, as well as a short essay for parents by Arthur Pober, EdD. This is what he writes:

“Reading an abridged version of a classic novel gives the young reader a sense of independence and the satisfaction of finishing a “grown-up” book. And when a child is engaged with and inspired by a classic story, the tone is set for further exploration of the story’s themes, characters, history, and details. As a child’s reading skills advance, the desire to tackle the original, unabridged version of the story will naturally emerge… When we look at the issues, values, and standards of past times in terms of how we live now, we can appreciate literature’s classic tales in a very personal and engaging way.” (pp.151-152)

Exactly! That’s exactly what I’m trying to do with my kids through all three of my Inspired by SLE Reading lists. I know my seven-year-old was able to finish off that version of Frankenstein in less than 40 minutes, but I also know that since it will be floating around our home library for the next few years, that he is likely to read it again and again. Gouge me in the wallet now, but I want the entire “Classic Starts” collection!

Here’s what I’m going to do in the meantime (before I win the lottery).  I’m adding both series to my Grandma Please by This! page. That will at least be a good start. Any of these books would be great future presents for Grandma and Grandpa to buy.

Grandma Please Buy This!

When your only photographer is your six-year-old…

My “I Brake for Moms” column this week in the The Weekly Herald. If it happens to remind you of somebody you know, please pass it along. (Err… the column that is, not my super-awesome light saber picture.)

Another gorgeous June day in Western Washington…


Nothing says summer like eating ice cream with your snow coat on!

Blogging/Comments Issue?

Normally my blog gets between 100-200 messages of really offensive SPAM each day. For the past few days there hasn’t been anything. I’ve also noticed that nobodyhas left any comments. So hmmmmm…. Maybe my comments aren’t working? If so, sorry about that! You can always email me at: Teachingmybabytoread at gmail dot com if you have something you want to say.

Frankenstein for Kids

As part of my Inspired by Stanford’s SLE Program, a Reading List for Children Part 3 my son Bruce(7) read the Classic Stars version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Bruce read this on his own in about forty minutes and I wasn’t really sure how much he understood.  It turns out, quite a lot actually, (with a bit of confusion thrown in).  The following is the transcript of our conversation about the book:

Q) What was this book about?

Bruce’s Answer:It was a pretty good book.  It was the whole story technically about how Frankenstein created the Monster.  But it sort of started with this guy chasing after the Monster. The guy (I know he was Frankenstein) was rescued by Captain Walter (who wasn’t the main guy or anything).  Frankenstein just told Captain Walter the whole story which goes like this:  He makes two friends, a really funny guy and a girl.  Then, he has to go away to the university. 

His first professor is really horrible but his second professor is awesome.  The second professor thought there was a new way of thinking.  It was really cool.  The second professor was technically the best.  Frankenstein learned so much that he wanted to create a real human being out of body parts.  But he knows if he does that that he has to study death and life and everything like that.  So then he makes the Monster.  He thinks the guys is going to be awesome, but the Monster is actually really horrible and evil because I think Frankenstein forgot to give him a brain. His wrist and all of his connections were sewn together, like with needlepoint.  It was just plain weird.

Q) What did the Monster think?

Bruce’s Answer:  He was sort of evil because he didn’t have proper body parts.  He didn’t have enough skin.  He was evil because he was made out of dead things so he was like a king zombie.

Q) Did the Monster want to be human?

Bruce’s Answer: No, because the Monster wanted to be made out of living parts, but the professor knew that wasn’t possible.  The professor needed to study way more for that, but he wasn’t going to.  The Monster wanted living body parts that he could control.

Q) Do you think humans should be able to create new creatures like Dr. Frankenstein’s Monster?

Bruce’s Answer: Not really, because if it went wrong then it would be really freaky and it would be weird.

Q) Do you think Dr. Frankenstein was brave for trying to do something new that nobody had ever done before?

Bruce’s Answer: Sort of, but he was also overconfident.  He was teensy bit overconfident than he should be.

Q) Were there any girls in the book?

Bruce’s Answer: Dr. Frankenstein made a friend with a girl.  The girl’s name was Elizabeth.

Q) How did the book end?

Bruce’s Answer: It sort of ended when Dr. Frankenstein died and Frankenstein’s Monster was sad that his dear creator died and then he jumped out the window of the ship. But Captain Walter, the guy who owns the ship, jumped out into the sea of the Arctic.  Frankenstein’s Monster is probably dead, but he was dead anyway.  Oh, and Frankenstein killed Elizabeth.

Q) How did that happen?

Bruce’s Answer: I don’t know how she died.  The book doesn’t tell you.

Q) Why do you think that Frankenstein is associated with Halloween?

Bruce’s Answer: It’s not associated with Halloween.  He just wanted to be a great scientist.  It doesn’t have anything to do with Halloween.  At first he was going to create an animal, but then he thought the world needed another human, not an animal.

Q) When some people hear the word “Frankenstein” they think of the Monster, instead of the Dr. Frankenstein.

Bruce’s Answer: Frankenstein actually created the Monster.

This was the first book I have bought from the “Classic Starts” series and I was extremely impressed. This is actually problematic for me, because now I want to buy more!  Ugh.  If only there was a money tree in my backyard…

Kafka for Kids


When I first read Franz Kafka’s classic work Metamorphosis in college as part of Stanford University’s Structured Liberal Education program, I had what is likely a common reaction: “What the heck? This is crazy!” So I was really curious to see what my son Bruce(7) would think of Mary James’s Shoebag, which we are reading as part of my Inspired by SLE Reading list #3 for kids. (By the way, I need to say a BIG “thank you” to blog reader Tracee for suggesting this book to me in the first place.)

Shoebag is indeed the perfect introduction to Kafka for kids… and maybe adults too. It tells the story of a cockroach named Shoebag who one day wakes up and has transformed into a young boy. His cockroach family has no idea what to do with him, and their reactions cover the gamut from compassion, to fear, to disgust and even hatred. Other elements of the story include enabling behavior, selfishness, and money causing family dysfunction.

One of the main Kafka references in Shoebag is that Shoebag’s best friend at school is named Gregor Samsa who (spoiler alert!) is also a cockroach who has turned into a human. Gregor’s real cockroach name is In Bed. It’s possible that the character Tuffy Buck is based on the boarders in Metamorphosis, but that might be a stretch on my part. There is also another character named Pretty Soft, who is a child actress. The whole human family shields her from reality and treats her like she is a different species too.

Of course, to a seven year old like Bruce, Shoebag is really just the story of a cockroach that turns into a human and has to go to school. If you just take this book at face value it is not deep at all. But the more you think about it, the smarter it gets.

This is what I mean. When Bruce and I were talking about Shoebag, I all of a sudden had a huge leap in understanding about Metamorphosis. To me as a mid-thirty year old, both stories are about what happens when somebody in your family makes choices about their life that are so out of the norm for the rest of you that it is almost like that relative turns into a different species. Do you by chance have a person like this in your family?

When somebody you love makes really bad decisions, the rest of the family doesn’t know what to do or what to feel. Emotions might range the gamut from compassion, to fear, to love, to disgust or even hatred. Other elements of the situation might include enabling behavior, selfishness and money. There is also a lot of hurt and a sense of betrayal. Not to get to personal, but there is a relative in my family who has made a lot of bad decisions in the past five years and whom Bruce is very familiar with. Discussing Shoebag together with my son was a great way to help him process what was going on.

My husband chimed into our talk with yet another interpretation of all of this and that is the “mental health” perspective. Maybe in Metamorphosis Gregor Samsa was losing his mind and his family didn’t know to deal with that. Maybe Shoebag didn’t really turn into a little boy. Maybe Relative XYZ is really dealing with ____. Maybe when I sent that person gift cards to Trader Joes periodically, I was like Grete leaving out bits of food for her brother Gregor. Maybe Pretty Soft needed more help dealing with reality on her own, and less enabling. Or maybe money is a bigger part of the plot lines then any of the characters have examined.

 That’s some pretty deep stuff to come from a book about a cockroach. My final thought is that Shoebag is the perfect example for one my most important learning goals from my Inspired by SLE Reading List #3 for kids: You can be your own hero. You can either crawl to the back of your bedroom and hide with an apple core in your back until you die like Gregor Samsa did in Metamorphosis, or you can look in the mirror and see your real self like Shoebag, and choose to find a way home to the people who love you.

T. S. Eliot For Kids


T.S. Eliot is one of my all-time favorite poets, but I had never heard of him until tenth or eleventh grade. I remember thinking at the time, “Wouldn’t it have been cool if I had read Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats when I was a kid?” Well, now’s my chance to give that experience to my children. Jenna(2.5) is not very interested, but Bruce(7) is willing to read about one cat a night. I’ve also caught Bruce reading Old Possum by himself, so I know that Eliot has caught his interest. Since we’ve joked that Bruce is like the Rum Tum Tugger, this shouldn’t surprise you.

Of course, now comes the strange part. I still need to explain to Bruce that our little book of cat poems has come to life in one of the most famous musicals of all times, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. Don’t get me wrong, I love Andrew Lloyd Webber. In fact, last year for our anniversary my husband and I saw Love Never Dies in London and actually saw Andrew Lloyd Webber from a distance, crossing the street. It was right before the entire cast left for Australia, and he was there checking their performance one last time. But going from reading funny cat poems with my seven-year-old in his room, to watching full grown adults dressed up like felines and belting out show tunes is pretty surreal.

I guess now I need to have a conversation with Bruce where I try to explain the 1980s…